2013 Training Camp Preview: Defensive Line

Posted Jul 12, 2013

Rookie first-round pick Dion Jordan joins Miami’s deepest unit.

If there was one indisputable strength on last year’s Miami Dolphins team it was the defensive line, led by Pro Bowlers Cameron Wake and Randy Starks. General Manager Jeff Ireland and Head Coach Joe Philbin didn’t stand pat, however, during the offseason and used the draft and free agency to further upgrade that position group.

The biggest move that was made came on the very first day of the 2013 NFL Draft, when Miami traded up to grab defensive end Dion Jordan out of the University of Oregon with the third overall pick. Prior to that, the Dolphins also brought in free agent defensive tackle Vaughn Martin, who spent his first four seasons with the San Diego Chargers.

Three rookies from last year – defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby and defensive tackle Kheeston Randall – showed enough in their first seasons to earn the trust of defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and defensive line coach Kacy Rogers. But Wake, Starks, defensive tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end/defensive tackle Jared Odrick were the heart and soul of the front four in Coyle’s 4-3 and Wake is expected to be a mentor to Jordan.


• Olivier Vernon DE (6-2, 268) — Right from the start, Vernon was a strong presence on special teams and won AFC Special teams Player of the Week honors at the end of October after recovering a blocked punt for a touchdown and blocking a 54-yard field goal attempt in a 30-9 win at the New York Jets. But he also spelled Odrick at defensive end and recorded 3.5 sacks to go along with 22 tackles (17 solo) and he could end up being Jordan’s biggest obstacle for that other starting defensive end job.

• Derrick Shelby DE (6-2, 270) — Shelby is another one of those nice examples of an undrafted rookie free agent making the most of his opportunity as he not only made the 53-man roster but became a regular part of the rotation on the defensive line. The former Utah star appeared in all 16 games and finished with eight tackles (7 solo) and excelled as a run stopper.

• Vaughn Martin DT (6-4, 308) — Thanks to the excellent salary cap position Ireland and Executive Vice President of Football Administration Dawn Aponte created, the Dolphins had the luxury of going after a veteran talent like Martin to bolster the defensive line. After two seasons in mostly a reserve role in San Diego, Martin started 15 of 16 games in 2011 and contributed 47 tackles (27 solo) and a sack but finished last season on Injured Reserve with a groin injury and Miami is hoping he is fully recovered so as to add depth to the line.

• Cameron Wake DE (6-3, 250) — With his career-high 15 sacks last season, Wake silenced whatever doubters remained and entered that exclusive fraternity of elite pass rushers that he was destined for since transitioning from the CFL back in 2009. What’s more, Wake put together a Pro Bowl season after moving to full-time defensive end for the first time in his NFL career and in a new system, so now that he’s comfortable with Coyle and his new position, opposing quarterbacks are going to need to have their heads on a swivel.

• Randy Starks DT (6-3, 305) — Starks has made it to the Pro Bowl as a defensive end (2010) and a defensive tackle (2012) and creates difficult matchups for opposing offensive coordinators because of his strength and quickness. His versatility was on display last year as he not only recorded 4.5 sacks but also made his fourth career interception and was given the franchise tag by the Dolphins in the offseason, so he will be counted on to once again be a force inside.

• Dion Jordan DE (6-6, 248) — This long and athletic playmaker drew immediate comparisons to former Dolphins standout defensive end and linebacker Jason Taylor because of his similar build and Philbin, Ireland and Coyle obviously liked what they saw in person and on film enough to agree to go mortgage one of their second-round picks to move up to the Oakland Raiders’ No. 3 spot to take him. They are confident that Jordan will recover from offseason shoulder surgery and having to miss the OTAs and minicamps because of the academic quarter system at Oregon and be capable of making a push for a starting spot opposite Wake.

• Paul Soliai DT (6-4, 345) — Coming off of his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2011, Soliai actually put up better numbers last season with 29 tackles (18 solo), 1.5 sacks, two passes defensed and a fumble recovery despite opposing teams double and sometimes triple teaming him. This is his seventh season and the former fourth-round pick out of Utah is continuing to establish himself as one of the premier interior linemen in the league.

• Kheeston Randall DT (6-5, 309) — Like fellow rookie Shelby, Randall basically forced his way into the defensive line rotation, but he found himself on the inactive last for four regular-season games. All he did in the other 12 was rack up eight tackles (six solo) and allow Soliai and Starks to get an occasional breather and stay fresh and he is hoping to expand his role this season.

• Jared Odrick DE/DT (6-5, 302; 28 REC; 317 YDS) — Odrick was asked to do more than any other defensive lineman last season, lining up both inside and outside and doubling as a pass rusher and a run stopper while also being asked to occupy blockers in order to help Wake and Vernon get to the quarterback. His contributions went largely unnoticed by fans and the media, except when he broke out his Pee Wee Herman sack dance, which he managed to do five times to go along with 35 tackles (29 solo) and two passes defensed and Coyle expects him to be an even more integral part of this unit in 2013.

There are five other defensive linemen looking to crack the 53-man roster or at least be assigned to the practice squad – undrafted rookie free agent defensive tackles Chris Burnette and A.J. Francis, undrafted rookie free agent defensive ends Tristan Okpalaugo and Emeka Onynekwu and free agent defensive tackle Tracy Robertson.

Latest Headlines

Game Pass: Miami Dolphins